Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 2/16/12
The grapefruit conjures images of a lazy breakfast on the veranda, a refreshing beginning to a day on the boat or maybe at the beach. A cactus is as soothing as athletes foot. A porcupine on a stick. There is nothing more misleading than the Grapefruit and Cactus league labels. As players, managers and major league executives have come to know, Arizona is more conducive in preparing for a major league season than Florida. And unless you are big on humidity and travel bingo, it is not even close. A huge difference, said former major leaguer Luis Gonzalez, who has lived through both. Gonzalez, who works in Arizonas front office, spring-ed -- sprang? -- in Florida in his early playing years with the Houston organization before spending the latter part of his career training in Arizona with the Chicago Cubs and the Diamondbacks. "The weather is always nice. The accommodations alone. The travel factor ... and Im a Florida boy. I grew up in Tampa. It is hard to talk bad about it. In Florida, we get the thundershowers and things like that. Over here, were in the desert. Occasionally we get rain, but not so much. There are not as many scratch-off days here in Arizona. There is nothing a manager or pitching coach -- or a player, for that matter -- hates more than being forced to work indoors because of weather conditions. It wreaks havoc on a pitchers throwing schedule, and -- let's face it -- spring training is for pitchers. Poor playing conditions also have a tendency to induce the kind of nagging injury such as a muscle pull or strain that can linger from the start. If a spring training game is rained out in Arizona, it's news. If a game is rained out in Florida, it's Tuesday. Pitchers notice. "Down there, storms roll through and you are always changing up the schedule and pitching indoors. You are not able to get on a regular schedule, said former Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy, who joined the Diamondbacks' staff as the pitching coach last year. J.J. Putz, who spent one spring in Florida with the New York Mets but otherwise has trained in Arizona with the Mariners, White Sox and D-backs, agreed with that assessment. "When you are trying to get on a routine and trying to get ready for the start of a season, timing is everything, as far as doing your bullpens and your game stuff. When there is a threat of rain every single day in Florida, that is kind of difficult." In Arizona, the pitching issue is the thin air that makes 17-11 games not only possible but almost a given two or three times a spring. "The only thing bad about here is maybe the thin air, as far as working about breaking pitches and getting your grip. Once you have done it out here a few years, you learn certain things that will help with your grip. Youre just worried about making pitches and getting your work in. The outcome, once you let go of it here, you just kind of throw it out the window, Putz said. The window is in the numbers, not the one on the bus or the van that is transporting players from Ft. Myers (Boston, Minnesota) to Port St. Lucie (Mets) -- 146 miles one way, mostly on state highways. Or from Jupiter (St. Louis) to Lakeland, 156 miles. The travel is such a nuisance that many of the 15 teams that spring in Florida do not play each other, content to play other teams in the general vicinity. While a handful of teams train in the TampaSt. Petersburg area, that does not necessarily make it easier. You get stuck in traffic, especially if you have to go to Tampa or Clearwater, something like that. Youll play a game and you are just locked in traffic for a long time, Nagy said. Since the Diamondbacks, Rockies and White Sox moved to the Phoenix area two years ago, there is no comparison. The longest trip in the Cactus League is 47 miles, from northwest Surprise to east Mesa, which saves not only travel expenses but the all-day aspect of the operation. Most teams in Arizona do their early work at their own complexes, while the Florida teams treat most trips as a road game, taking their batting practice after traveling to the host stadium. That makes for early morning busing. "This is as convenient as it gets, said Diamondbacks bench coach Alan Trammell, who spent all 23 of his major league springs as a player and a manager in Florida as a member of the Tigers but last year was exposed to Arizona for the first time. Arizona provides the whole package -- new facilities that host two teams, easy travel, better weather. Even the amenities: A guy could play 36 holes a day and not come close to hitting all the golf courses in the area. There's also the variety of dining opportunities. There are no Don and Charlies on the Florida coasts. "Its just slower. You have like four restaurants -- Outback, Olive Garden ... other than that, you are pretty much out of luck unless you want to drive an hour," one veteran said of his former spring training site. When Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard was scouting spring training sites for his expansion Rockies, then-Arizona Sports Commission member Joe Garagiola Jr. took him to a vacant lot in Peoria, a northwest suburb of Phoenix. Garagiola pointed to the area of dormant cotton fields where the new SeattleSan Diego spring complex and adjacent mall were to be built in 1993, and Gebhard was not sure what to make of it. He took his team to Tucson. But Garagiola was not kidding. A ballot initiative in the mid-1990s designed to generate money for a new stadium for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals also included funds for spring training projects, and suburban municipalities lined up to take advantage. Kansas City and Texas went to far-northwest suburb Surprise in 2003. Cleveland and Cincinnati went to far-west suburb Goodyear in 2009. The Los Angeles Dodgers left their idyllic setting in Vero Beach to be closer to their West Coast home, joining the White Sox in western suburb Glendale in 2009. The Diamondbacks and Colorado were the last to join, moving last spring from Tucson to a joint facility on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the first major league complex built on Native American land. With so many players relocating to the Phoenix area, the Cactus League also brings an air of normalcy to everyday life, especially for the family man. "Its nice to wake up in the morning and drive 10, 15 minutes to the ball park and play the game and then go back home, Gonzalez said. Added Putz, "Most of the time in spring, you are back (from games) in time to pick up the kids from school. "Having an Arizona spring is ideal."
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